Label Alert: Apes & Androids, Birds & Batteries, Fantasy Mirrors , The Tiny Tin Hearts, What Laura Says Thinks and Feelsby Emily Strong
Apes & Androids
Everything about Apes & Androids is ambitious. Their sound is vast but densely packed into little three-minute atomic bursts of energy. Their performances and stage personas have all the theatricality and excess of a Broadway production. They bold-facedly borrow from the more bizarre and unique moments in musical history, from Pink Floyd to David Bowie to Queen. But Apes & Androids are more than just a glam rock tribute band. They possess the necessary bravado and ingenuity to create their own thoroughly modern take on glam, infusing the decades-old culture of hedonism and excess with the vitality and adventurousness of today’s DIY aesthetic. Attempting such a feat could potentially end up a sad, half-assed little train wreck; instead, the razor-sharp precision with which they execute each song takes them to a level of professionalism seldom seen even in the original movement.
But let’s not kid ourselves: Apes & Androids are not in this to be professional. They are more interested in creating a three-ring circus of sound, constantly keeping the listener on their toes by continually pitching sonic curveballs. Keeping the audience entertained comes second only to entertaining themselves, as Apes & Androids continually aim for the next outrageous musical or performance stunt. This motivation has never been more evident than on their latest album, Blood Moon. The rhythmic acrobatics on first single, “Golden Prize”, are executed with awe-inspiring coordination, while the tight harmonies and galloping pace of “Make Forever Last Forever” provide a rare moment of almost-normalcy. Solid from beginning to end, I can’t imagine this album flying under the radar for too long. This band is far too dynamic to go unnoticed.
Label Alert: Ace Fu, Modular, Rough Trade, Side One Dummy
Birds & Batteries
While some band names carry little significance, ‘Birds & Batteries’ is a charming metaphor for the organic/electronic interplay at work in their music. They demonstrated this merging of two worlds beautifully in last year’s LP I’ll Never Sleep Again. The album starts off with an updated version of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”, in which lilting synths and stuttering drum machines dance around the steady, plaintive cry of the pedal steel as frontman Mike Sempert breathes new life into (and in some opinions, improves upon) the song. From there, each track continues the focus on combining analog and digital elements, while lyrics vacillate between observations of the natural world and urban life. The result: a lush and addictive album that meets listeners where they live and takes them on fantastical journey through a world that exists only in Sempert’s vibrant imagination. With a flurry of critical praise from west-coast publications as well as a healthy residency in CMJ’s Top 200 charts, it’s hard to believe Birds & Batteries’ potential is still untapped by any of the many labels for whom they would be well-suited. Their upcoming appearance at SXSW ‘08 will hopefully change that.
Label Alert: Barsuk, Kill Rock Stars, Merge, Rough Trade
Imagine that David Bowie and Scott Walker had a secret tryst that resulted in a baby boy. Then, imagine that baby boy grew up and started a synth-pop band and wrote songs about premature babies and blue whales. Oh, wait. You don’t really have to do much imagining: as it turns out, Fantasy Mirrors already exists. He might not be Bowie and Walker’s biological offspring, but frontman Nathanael Bluhm certainly carries these icons’ torch, and Michael Potvin, his fellow founding member, provides the fuel with his slick synth-driven melodies. Add to that Patrick Dole and Joseph Wawrzyn’s relentless rhythm section, and you have the perfect music for dance floor aficionados and electro-pop connoisseurs alike. Fantasy Mirrors have yet to formally release a full-length album, but, if there’s any justice in the world, their appearance at SXSW ‘08 will help them find someone who can facilitate the process.
Label Alert: 4AD, Astralwerks, Marriage, Modular
The Tiny Tin Hearts
The process of discovery is an interesting phenomenon. Sometimes you immediately know you’ve stumbled on a gem; other times you may almost pass it over before going back, reexamining, and realizing the value of what you nearly overlooked. Sometimes the revelation hits you like a bus; at others, it slowly creeps up on you and gradually works its way into your consciousness. The Tiny Tin Hearts falls solidly into those latter categories. This is Austin: there’s no shortage of folk collectives trying to write the next Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan or In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. But even though they’re new to the scene and have only recently released their first demo, the Hearts display both a startling maturity and a healthy dose of light-hearted humility. While they take the business of songwriting seriously, they handle themselves with a warm sense of humor. The production value on their demo is shoddy at best, but if you can listen past the muddy recording and hear the heart of the music, you will discover songs of surprising emotional depth and sprawling beauty.
Label Alert: Asthmatic Kitty, Dead Oceans, Drag City, Merge
What Laura Says Thinks and Feels
I don’t know what it is about Arizona. The entire state seems to have really stepped up in the past couple of years, producing a veritable army of truly remarkable musicians—and this year, they are invading SXSW. On the frontlines of this musical onslaught is What Laura Says…, a band that hates commas and haircuts, but loves crafting sunny melodies that fall somewhere between freak-folk and indie-pop. Some of their songs sound like Elton John fronting the Super Furry Animals; others like Devendra Banhart covering Sondre Lerche; still others like Ben Folds on a bender with Ariel Pink. Regardless of what bizarre combinations you might hear in their music, one thing is certain: they will slay you. But instead of using swords and guns, they use irresistible harmonies. And instead of dying of sharp force trauma and exsanguination, you will die of pure, unadulterated happiness.
Label Alert: Barsuk, Eenie Meenie, Polyvinyl, XL